Narda Lepes, Argentina’s foremost advocate of plant-based eating, shares her lessons for a more ethical approach to meat consumption at #50BestTalks ‘Meat: the future,’ presented by Miele.
To understand the meat we eat, everyone should visit a large-scale slaughterhouse, says Narda Lepes, the TV cook and owner of Narda Comedor in Buenos Aires. The celebrity chef says that seeing how animals are slaughtered and processed at scale will help consumers to be more conscious about what they’re eating and how much of it they’re eating.
“It’s a rite of passage – you don’t come out the same once you’ve killed an animal or been to a slaughterhouse,” says Lepes. “We separate the ritual of death and the ritual of meat. When a van goes past full of cows when you’re a little kid, we say they’re going to another place. They put a thing like a feminine towel underneath the meat when they sell it, so you won’t see blood. They don’t want you to think about the death of the animal.”
In one of the world’s biggest beef-consuming countries, Lepes is a voice for change. She is not a vegetarian or vegan and she still serves meat in her restaurant, but she wants to redress the balance between proteins and vegetables, changing the Argentine mindset of ‘the more meat, the better’. One of the ways to change things is through social media, where she says it is important for influencers such as chefs to think about the way they are portraying meat, not just posting large hunks of meat for the sake of it.
“Argentina is sold in a certain way – we’re marketed to the world as tango, football, meat and land,” she says. “Everything we do influences what we’re selling. Francis Mallmann hangs a chicken and pineapple and people will do the same. Someone does the salt bae move and everyone does it. We can’t take these images lightly. Look at cauliflower consumption – Tomás Kalika started cooking it whole and loads of us chefs did the same, then cauliflower sales went up in at least nine countries.”
Argentines have a particular responsibility to reassess the quantity and the way they eat meat, she says. She explains that in the country of the asado, or barbecue, a trip to the butcher can result in more than five kilograms of meat for just four people – when the average consumption should be about half a kilo per person.
Lepes advocates using the whole of the animal, not just the premium bit of muscle. At Narda Comedor, the chef purchases her meat as part of a group of restaurants so that nothing is wasted. She serves it in sauces and in accompaniments to dishes where the bulk of the plate is plant-based.
She is conscious that not everyone can afford to buy the most ethically sourced meat and that those who are privileged not to have to buy large-scale produced meat should use their influence to impact others, switching the proportion of meat to veg that they post on social media.
“We have to reduce our meat consumption on a global level,” she says. “I try to have a positive call to action: eat vegetables, show them off. Eat meat, know where it comes from. Recognise your privilege, make the most of it, communicate it. Then we all know we need to drink more water, eat more fruit and vegetables, and share the message.”
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